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robertogreco : gemara   1

Pookleblinky on Twitter: "This is what an average page of the Talmud looks like. https://t.co/V6JHEVczuK"
"This is what an average page of the Talmud looks like. https://pbs.twimg.com/media/C4_953lWcAA-AIW.jpg
There's a lot going on here, and all of it is interesting.
That text in the center is the mishnah. The mishnah is a transcription of much older oral Torah.
The mishnah was an oral tradition for centuries before it was finally written down.
The text surrounding it is the gemara. The gemara is commentary, centuries later, on that mishna. Which is itself commentary.
The gemara is, importantly, an argumentative commentary. It's a transcript of arguments over centuries.
The gemara is 6,000 pages of history, arguments, excruciatingly nitpicky discussions, and anecdotes.
Each nugget of mishna is surrounded by centuries of arguments over what it means.
Those arguments range wildly. For instance, in one tractate the mishna discusses a unit of measurement.
Over the following centuries, that unit transformed from about a tablespoon into a wheelbarrow worth of stuff.
That transformation is recorded, as people got confused and argued over what on earth it meant at various times.
Each argument presented in the surrounding gemara, comes from a lineage of thought. You can trace that lineage through centuriese
You can follow Rabbi Akiva's thought over the course of his life, and see how many times he was quoted later on, for instance.
You can watch two schools of thought, butt heads in ever more smartass arguments, over centuries.
Sometimes there's reconciliation, one school of thought accepts that another was right. Other times, the arguments continue.
The arguments build on each other. You can watch an argument get settled. Centuries later, that agreement is argued.
The ensuing argument ends nitpicking the original in excruciating detail until it makes sense to enough people.
Layers of commentary upon commentary upon commentary. A millennium later, Rashi added his own.
The Talmud was, essentially, the Internet before people had electricity.
There were correspondences written, indexes where you could locate every mention of Rab Johanan etc.
Subjects ranged from torturous arguments over etymology, to hilarious anecdotes, to daily images of life.3
The Talmud was Usenet before people knew about electricity.
There's even a tractate, Pirke Avot, that's so eclectic there's a thousand-year old joke about citing it if unsure of a source.
In other words, the Talmud is a good example of user interface. It accreted organically, organized itself organically.
Its rough edges were worn away with centuries, it became as intuitive a way of representing discussion as one could get.
The Talmud was, until Usenet, the world's best interface for representing vast discussions. Version controlled, too.
It's been around for so long that its influence permeated western culture.
It helped make "commentary upon commentary" seem intuitive. It would have used hyperlinks if it could have.
And, thousands of years later, we reinvent that wheel, badly. https://pbs.twimg.com/media/C5AEuYgW8AEWwiH.jpg [https://twitter.com/pookleblinky/status/833171129279852545 ]
We have tried to scale the user interface of the Talmud a few orders of magnitude.
The result: infinite chains of quote RT's with the word "THREAD" and "this."
Tumblr discussions that zoom in microscopically until the first several layers of commentary are invisible.
Any sufficiently advanced commentary model contains an ad-hoc, informally-specified, bug-ridden, slow implementation of half of the Talmud
Usenet came closest, followed by irc .txt logs.
Another interesting thing is that the Talmud is 6,000 pages. You can read all of it, a page a day, in 7 years.
If you look at oral traditions around the world, this was about average.
There's probably something like Dunbar's Number, concerning the max size of an oral tradition.
The Mahabharata is about 1.8 million words. 200,000 verses.
The Iliad alone was about 200,000 words. It was an oral tradition for centuries after Homer.
The Talmud is estimated at about 2 million words, of which the mishna alone are about the same range as any other oral tradition.
Assuming there is a limit to how large an oral tradition can be, even after transcription, let's call it 2 million words worth.
2 million words of argument and commentary before things get too confusingly vast for normal humans to keep up.
I'm sure that there's a relationship between dunbar's number and max size of oral tradition.
And that this relationship affects how internet communities fracture and insulate themselves as they scale relentlessly upwards"
oraltradition  talmud  comments  tumblr  annotation  marginalia  conversation  gemara  iliad  mahabharata  internet  web  online  dunbar  commentary  comment  commenting  discussion  history  2017 
february 2017 by robertogreco

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